Does Halifax have any great public spaces?

Studying great public spaces is the best way to learn about how public space works. What spaces should we study in Halifax and Dartmouth? While we have some good public spaces, no one space jumps out for me as truly, without question great.

I think a few spaces in Halifax come close to being great:

  • Point Pleasant Park
  • Public Gardens

Some are very good:

  • Victoria Park
  • Winston Churchill’s park (in front of the old library)

Some really should be much better:

  • Halifax Commons
  • Grand Parade
  • Dartmouth Commons
  • Citadel Hill
  • Historic Properties
  • Sackville Landing
  • Dartmouth Ferry Terminal plaza
  • Granville Mall
  • Barrington Street

Even our best parks – Point Pleasant and the Public Gardens – both lack something. Point Pleasant is a wonderful, naturalistic park and a great place for a stroll, but what other activities happen at Point Pleasant? The Public Gardens is a lush, gentle, beautiful place in the heart of the city, but it’s ornamental. Look but don’t touch. A beautiful place, but a bit stuffy for many activities.

I think our two best parks highlight something important. Very good places are good or excellent at a few things, but great places – whether neighbourhoods, streets, cities, parks and plazas – offer many, many experiences and activities for many, many people. Project for Public Spaces calls this the Power of 10. Many things, happening at many different times, is the key to vibrant places.

This is not to say that every place should try and be everything to everyone. Each space has its own unique character. The Public Gardens is a soft, contemplative place with a slow, stately pace. Point Pleasant is more active and wilder. Art, benches, trees, flower beds, paths, fences and buildings all enhance each places character. Activities also create the mood. Painting classes, yoga, chess, feeding the duck, strolling and performances at the band stand fit the Public Gardens. Paint ball games do not.

In the greatest places the energy and people spill out into surrounding spaces. Imagine if more visitors to the Public Gardens stood, sat or lingered along South Park Street? What if the quiet, sedate Gardens was the counterpoint to a lively Victoria Park that was full of music, sports, games and bustle? Good design could help accomplish this, mostly by providing more space for pedestrians and cozy places on South Park and Spring Garden to sit and watch the city fly by.

What do you think? Do we have any great public places in Halifax and Dartmouth? What about the rest of HRM? Do we have places that could be great, but just need some TLC? Message me on Twitter with some thoughts: @seanplans


About the author

Sean Gillis

Sean is a professional urban planner. He's interested in how cities work to connect people and ideas. Sean's passionate about transportation, design and public spaces. He works for Halifax Regional Municipality. The opinions in his posts are his own.